Sunday, October 14, 2007

Illegal spying began before 9/11

9/11 changed excuses everything

I have to admit this one surprised even me a little. (All emph. added)

A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.

Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.

There are a few major takeaways from this:

  1. There is nothing we can't excuse by whoring out 9/11, even when they took place before 9/11.
  2. Our government punishes companies for not breaking the law, while granting them immunity when they do - effectively reversing legal and illegal.
  3. The efficacy of warrantless spying programs, which has never been evidenced in any way, now has more reason to be doubted as those programs did not prevent 9/11.
  4. Once again, we've been misled about the nature of the NSA spying programs - surprise!

Glenn Greenwald had a great piece earlier this week on Joe Klein's defense of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty. Klein argues that the NSA programs are essential -- even though he has no idea what they do or how effective they are. There is literally no way he can argue that, so he doesn't argue it -- he merely asserts it as fact.

The current head of the NSA was already caught lying about the effectiveness of government surveillance, claiming that recent FISA changes helped catch terrorists in Germany only to retract those claims when pressed. There is no reason to believe that these programs work, or that they are limited to fighting terrorism. We don't know what they do, who they spy on, how broad they are or even what the purpose is. We don't know how many people are privy to the information gathered or whether that information is permanently archived. (Which would be yet another violation of FISA laws)

In short, we simply have no idea what is going on, and by "we" I include Congress and the courts, including the FISA court. Yet that doesn't prevent administration defenders from swearing that these programs are both vital and properly managed.

Qwest did what few telecoms had the courage to do: it asked the government to provide legal rationalization for demands that appeared illegal, and when the government declined it refused to play along and in so doing fulfilled its legal obligation. "What the President says goes" is not a law in our country. We are a nation of laws, not a nation that unquestioningly follows a supreme leader. Other telecoms chose to follow orders that appeared illegal, and now the administration is tacitly admitting their guilt by lobbying heavily for amnesty on their behalf.


Autumn Harvest said...

You've got some typos in your post. Let me fix that up for you:

"What the President says goes" is . . . a law in our country. We [were] a nation of laws; [now] a nation that unquestioningly follows a supreme leader.

Ah that's better!

Margalis said...

Well played.

My use of the word "are" was wishful thinking.